How to make your work less boring

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When we were kids, every day was an adventure. We had fun doing things we saw on TV, read about in books, or could conjure up in our imaginations. One thing we never imagined, however, was doing the same thing for the rest of our lives.

And then we went to law school.

We settled into a career that demands focus. We do the same things every day, getting better at our jobs, but for many lawyers, that job eventually becomes boring.

If you find yourself bored with your work, here are three things you can do:

Delegate the boring parts

Some parts of the job are more interesting than others. By getting others to do most of the routine, boring work, you’ll free yourself up to do the more stimulating and challenging work.

Work less/do other things

Delegating and outsourcing will free up time. You can free up even more time by using strategies and tools that streamline your workflow and make more efficient.

You can use some of the time you free up to pursue outside interests: hobbies, a side business, charitable work, or anything else that excites you.

Your work may still be boring but you’ll have enough other things going on in your life to keep you stimulated and fulfilled.

Find fulfillment in the work itself

Ultimately, the best way to avoid boredom is to find fulfillment in the work itself. One of the best ways to do that is to continually take your practice into new markets where you will learn new things and meet new people.

In addition, challenge yourself to continually acquire new skills and improve your existing ones.

Finally, make sure you continually set new goals that force you to stretch and grow.

Not only are these strategies good for business, you will never be bored because every day will be a new adventure.

One of the best ways to earn more and work less is to get more referrals

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Adventures in bright shiny object land

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My wife and I were at IKEA a few days ago, buying an ottoman for a side chair in my home office. While we were there, I fell in love with a desk by the name of Fredde.

I wasn’t shopping for a desk but Fredde called out to me and he was awesome looking. I wrote down his name and when we got home I went to the IKEA site and looked at measurements and photos and imagined how Fredde would look in place of the folding table I now use.

Oh yeah, I’m getting this desk.

I watched several set-up videos, seeing how others have configured their Fredde desk. It seems to be popular with gamers, ostensibly because it allows you to keep everything you need close at hand. It is tall and works well in smaller spaces.

But I don’t have a small space and I’m not a gamer. I asked myself if the desk would help me be more productive. The answer was, probably not.

There are a couple of features that might help, like a cut out in the front that would allow me to get closer to the monitor, but to be honest, the main reason I like the desk is that it is incredibly cool.

What did I do? I watched more videos, of course. Videos about desks, chairs, and office layouts. That led to videos about ergonomics–chair position, monitor height, keyboard best practices, and so on.

Crazy? Probably. But that’s how I roll.

After watching all of those videos, I realized that I already have everything I need. My current setup isn’t cool but it is functional. It’s also spacious and uncluttered and gives me a sense of order.

So now I’m thinking I don’t need Fredde.

On the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with getting something just because you want it, right? Yeah, that’s what I thought.

How many referrals did you get last week? Here’s how to get more

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You don’t have time to do it? That’s why you must do it

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Go through your task and project lists and zero in on the ideas you have tagged “someday/maybe” or otherwise designated as “low priority”. As you look at these ideas again, you’ll realize that many of them will never see the light of day, nor should they. They were passing notions that don’t merit a second look.

But some of your ideas are awesome.

Some of your ideas could transform your life and take you to new heights or in new directions. You know the ideas I’m talking about. They’re the ones that give you a rush when you think about them.

You’ve put them on a “someday” list because, you’ve told yourself, you don’t have time for them right now.

Unfortunately, while you’re waiting for “someday,” many of your best ideas will rot away in the recesses of your software or on the tear-stained pages of your journal. Let’s face it, given the current state of your busyness, the most likely fate for most of these ideas is an ignominious death.

So, here’s a thought. Since these projects have a potentially huge payoff, how about putting some of them at the top of your list?

You tell yourself you can’t. You have other things to do, bills to pay, deadlines, responsibilities. You love these ideas but you have to be practical.

But that’s not the real reason. The real reason you don’t put these life-changing projects at the top of your list is that they scare the poop out of you.

You might screw up and your dream will go up in smoke. Or you might get it right and your life will change in profound, and profoundly frightening ways.

Well buckaroo, my advice to you, and to myself because I’m guilty of this too, is to realize that “someday” may never come and you might never have another time (or a better time) to find out what might be.

Therefore, choose one of these projects and do it anyway.

Pretend you do have the time and get started.

If you feel yourself resisting, suck it up and do something (anything) related to that project. . . for five minutes.

Because you can’t tell yourself you don’t have five minutes.

Write a few notes, organize some materials, set up a new project folder.

There. You’ve started. It feels good, doesn’t it? You’re all tingly inside.

Tomorrow, do another five minutes. Or ten. Or an hour, once you get excited and start to taste the future.

Here’s a project that could take your practice to another level

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A simple way to get rid of clutter

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I know someone who’s computer desktop perpetually looks like it was the site of a bombing run. Every inch is covered with shortcuts, downloads, documents, and set-up files. She has multiple copies of jpegs and pdfs, because she wasn’t sure if the original downloaded properly, or she couldn’t find it.

I don’t know about you but I couldn’t function that way. I’m not a clean freak. I just find it easier to get things done when my work space is reasonably uncluttered and organized.

And yet there are times when my desktop gets messy. When that happens, the first thing I do is gather up everything and put it in a new folder.

Out of sight, out of mind.

The next step is to clean out the folder and put things where they belong. I might do this right away but I usually do it later, when I have some downtime.

Doing it this way allows me to quickly get back to work. When I’m ready to tackle the folder, I’m able to take my time and make better decisions about what to keep and where to put it.

Okay, maybe I do have some issues.

Anyway, if you find clutter distracting or it impairs your productivity, you might give this method a try.

You can do the same thing in the physical world. When you have too much clutter on your desk–papers, files, books–put everything into one or two piles and when you’re ready, chop those files down to size.

If you have a messy closet, put everything into boxes as the first step. Later, go through the boxes deliberately, putting away the things you know you need and getting rid of everything else.

You can do the same thing on your smartphone. If you have too many apps, put them all into digital folders or push them to another screen. Or delete everything. Only put back (or re-download) the apps you know you will use.

De-clutter first. Organize second.

I keep my digital world organized with Evernote

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How to overcome procrastination and train your brain to resist distractions

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I was watching a video about how to overcome procrastination. The presenter talked about the Pomodoro technique which I sometimes use to help me focus, particularly on tasks I’m avoiding.

Basically, you set a timer for 25 minutes (or whatever you choose) and work until the timer goes off. You then take a break for five minutes and go at it again. If you’re still not done after three or four sessions, you take a longer break and then get back to work.

The idea is to get ourselves to focus with the promise that we only have to do it for a short period of time. It gets you started, which is the hardest and most important part of getting anything done.

Anyway, if you ever find yourself procrastinating on certain tasks, get yourself a Pomodoro app or use your kitchen timer and give it a whirl.

But here’s the thing.

Even though you have promised yourself to keep working until the timer sounds, if you’re like most people, you will be tempted to stray. You’ll feel the urge to check your email or take a peak at social media. Or you’ll realize you need another cup of coffee. Or the phone will ring and you’ll feel compelled to at least see who is calling.

You know you must resist these urges but sometimes they get the better of you.

The video presented a simple technique for conquering these urges and resisting distractions. Have a sheet of paper handy, or open a text file, and whenever you feel tempted by the urge to do something else, write it down.

Writing it down allows you to acknowledge the urge and postpone it until your next break. It helps to dissipate the urge and release its hold over you.

It also allows you to identify things that typically distract you. You can then take steps to eliminate them before they can distract you by doing things like turning off your phone or closing browser tabs that don’t relate to your work.

Write down (and postpone) your urges and you will become their master instead of their servant.

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How much time should you put into each project?

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I recently read an article about the best way to pay down your debts. Logic dictates that you should pay more towards the balances with the highest interest rates. According to something called the “Snowball Method,” however, it’s better to first pay off the accounts with the smallest balances.

Paying off small balances tends to have a psychological effect on your sense of progress, providing additional motivation to pay down the rest of your debts.

Years ago, when I had several credit cards with varying balances and interest rates, I intuitively made an effort to do just that. Instead of making a proportionally bigger payment on accounts with bigger balances and higher interest rates, I focused on paying off the $500 department store balance, first.

It simplified bill paying and, more importantly, it felt good to see those accounts zero out. I still had the bigger accounts to contend with but overall, it felt like I was making progress.

Does the “Snowball Method” apply to anything else? I suspect it does. If you have five projects on your plate right now, in determining how much time to give each project, it would be logical to consider the potential payoff of each project. Projects with a bigger payoff should get more of your time, one would think. But that would ignore the psychological impact of completing some of the smaller projects, first.

I know, almost every expert says we should do the most important things first so that we make progress on them, and only then work on the less valuable tasks. (Big rocks first.) Hell, I’ve preached that myself.

But we’re human and sometimes we need to do smaller things so we can cross off them off our list and have a sense of progress.

Building your practice is easier when you know The Formula

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How to choose the right tasks to do today

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Yesterday, I said that a good way to avoid being overwhelmed by a large to-do list is to make a list of 3-5 tasks you are committed to doing today and putting everything else out of the way (on other lists). I said your “today” list should be comprised of your most urgent and import tasks, but how do you decide what those are?

Urgent is pretty easy. These are tasks you must do today or bad things will happen. One expert says urgent tasks are ones you would be willing to stay late at the office to finish. If it can wait until tomorrow, it’s not urgent.

Works for me. But what about “important” tasks? How do we choose those?

One way to do that is to “start with the end in mind,” as Covey says, and work backward. That means first deciding on the outcomes you want to achieve today, this week, or relatively soon. Once you know the outcomes, brainstorm what you have to do to accomplish them, or take the next step in that direction.

If one of your desired outcomes this week is to file a motion in an important case, you would first write down all of the necessary action steps (e.g., assemble a factual time line, research, write points and authorities, write a declaration, write the first draft, and so on). From that list, you would choose what to do first and put that on your to-do list for today.

If a desired outcome this week is to get at least one referral from your professional contacts, possible actions would include going through your database to identify professionals you want to contact, writing emails, and making phone calls. Put one or more of those tasks on your list for today.

Now, how do you decide on the outcomes you want to achieve? By first looking at your goals. But that’s a subject for another day.

How to use Evernote for getting things done

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Getting things done by re-thinking the definition of a to-do list

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No matter what task management system you use, or even if you don’t use one at all, the odds are you have a seemingly endless list of things to do.

You might keep them in an app. You might keep them on paper. You might keep them in your head. But there’s your list, a mile long and growing every day, overwhelming you to the point where you don’t want to look at it anymore.

Okay, maybe that’s just me.

But I have a new weapon in the battle of wits between my lists and my sanity and you may want to use it.

It starts with thinking about a to-do list as simply a list of things to do TODAY.

Not tomorrow or next week. Today.

It is a list of 3 to 5 tasks you are committed to doing today because they are urgent or important.

Take a deep breath and imagine a list of ONLY 3 to 5 tasks. That’s a list you can and will do.

If you find yourself resisting a task, break it up into 15-minute bites. You’ll be less likely to procrastinate when “it’s only 15 minutes”.

You can also use 15-minute increments for bigger projects. I’m working on something right now that’s tedious and will take many hours to complete. I had put it off for a long time but I’m doing it now because my task list only commits me to 15 minutes. I can do more than 15 minutes if I want to, and I often do, but only if I want to.

Yay me.

Now, what do you do if you have more than 5 important or urgent things to do today? You keep them on a second list.

Your first list (today) has your most important or urgent tasks on it. Your second list is what to do after you’ve taken care of those tasks.

Your second list has no more than 15 or 20 tasks on it. It includes other things you need to do today, and things you need to do in the next week or so. Or things you’d like to consider doing.

When you have completed the tasks on your today list, you look at list number two and choose additional tasks.

Two lists: 3 to 5 most important tasks you are committed to doing today. 15 to 20 back-up or “next” tasks.

Check your today list frequently throughout the day. Check your second list once a day, after you have finished your today list.

Put everything else–all of the someday/maybes, ideas, things you’re not committed to doing–on a third list. Check that list once a week. Skim through it and find things to put on your first two lists and then put your third list away until the following week.

I’ve been doing this for about a week and it’s making a big difference in how I feel about my lists and in my overall productivity. My lists are much more manageable and much less daunting.

And, you can use this with any other task management system because it’s basically a way to combat overwhelm by limiting the number of tasks in front of you and the amount of time you commit to doing them.

One more thing.

While your first two lists are purposefully limited in number, list number three (everything else) will no doubt grow to hundreds of entries, many of which don’t need to be considered each week. To keep list number three from overwhelming you, at some point, you’ll want to segment it so that you don’t have to look at every task or idea on it every week.

You can do that by creating sub-lists or by using software to label or tag items to consider at some point in the future or under certain specified conditions. I have a list of more than 1000 blog post ideas, for example, but I only look at that list occasionally.

How to use Evernote for getting things done

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Today’s a good day to get organized

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Any day is a good day to get organized but the day before a holiday is especially good. You’re relaxed and looking forward to Thanksgiving. You’re probably not in the mood to do a lot of serious work. And you like the idea of starting the week without 102 things to do and no idea where to start.

Take a look at your email inbox. This would be a good time to zero it out. Go through the first few hundred (the rest are probably too old to bother with). When you find something that you want or need to do, tag or label it, or forward it to your task management software, and then archive everything else. It will still be there if you need it but you won’t have to look at it.

Take a look at your tasks and projects and do the same thing. Flag those that are important and should be done soon and put everything else out of sight (e.g., archive, someday/maybe, or tagged for future review).

Take a look at your current and upcoming projects. Consolidate your notes and ideas, clean up your outlines and task lists and get things ready so that when you see them next, you can finish them quickly or start them with aplomb.

Get organized today and then enjoy the morrow. Clear your mind, fill your belly, and give thanks for what you have and what the future has in store.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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How to create a task you’ll actually do

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If you find yourself procrastinating about certain tasks on your list, one reason might be the task description itself. If it’s unclear what you’re supposed to do, if the task looks daunting or overly time consuming, it’s easy to see why you might put it off until later or skip it completely.

You can avoid this by writing better descriptions. Here are three ways to do that:

1) Make sure the task is something you can DO.

A task should be something simple, meaning something you can actually do.

You can’t “buy a car,” for example. There are too many things you need to do first: research makes and models, read reviews, consider extras and add-ons, choose a color, compare prices, take a test drive, inquire about financing, and so on.

Buying a car is a “project” not a task. Break up your projects into the component tasks and record those on your list.

2) Use ACTION VERBS to describe your tasks

Describe each task clearly and concisely. Start the description with an action verb: write, call, review, outline, research, send, etc.

If your task is to compare prices on your new car, for example, you might write, “Call five dealers for written quotes”.

Specific, clear, concise, and doable.

3) Make it EASIER to do

The easier (and quicker) it is to do a task, the more likely it is that you’ll do it. When writing the task description, include additional information and resources you’ll need so you don’t have to go looking for them when it’s time to do the task.

If the task is to call someone, put the phone number in the task description. Add notes you might need to reference during the call.

If the task is to review a document, embed the document or a link thereto in the task description. If you need to fill out a monthly report, include the template or the previous month’s report to refer to and/or modify for this month’s report.

Make your tasks something you can do, make the description action-oriented so you’ll know exactly what to do, and make the task easier to do by adding additional information and resources.

“Get more referrals” is a project, not a task. Here’s everything you need to do

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